CROYDON IN CRISIS: Hamida Ali’s control of the Town Hall continues to crumble, as long-standing councillor Jane Avis decides to quit.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Jane Avis, the council cabinet member for homes and gateway services, has resigned from the council.
It means that residents in three wards across the borough will have council by-elections to vote in on May 6, alongside the London Mayoral and Assembly elections. There are some suggestions that there are yet further councillor resignations to come.
And while Avis’s resignation is not directly connected with the council’s financial crisis, her departure is seen by some on Katharine Street as the latest sign of how the Croydon Labour Party, dominated for so long by Tony Newman and his clique, is losing its grip on the council.
Avis’s resignation as an elected councillor is understood to have been submitted on Tuesday, although the Labour councillor has been known to have been considering her position for some time.
Avis was first elected as a Labour councillor for South Norwood in 1998.
Her resignation comes a fortnight after Newman, the discredited former council leader, and Simon Hall, the long-time cabinet member for finance, announced that they were quitting as councillors. Newman and Hall are currently “administratively suspended” by the Labour Party, pending investigations prompted by the council’s Penn Report into possible wrong-doing that led to the Town Hall’s financial collapse.
In many respects, Avis was one of the Town Hall victims of the heavy-handed, autocratic rule of Newman.
Unlike most who rose to the higher tier of councillor allowances under the patronage system operated in Croydon’s Labour Party during the Newman era, Avis was of the left, a Corbyn-supporting member of Momentum. As a consequence, she was frozen out of senior positions in Newman’s cabinet for years.
Only when Blairite Newman decided he needed to win over the growing number of Momentum members during peak Corbynmania did he turn to Avis, appointing her as cabinet member for families, health and social care after Labour retained control of the Town Hall in 2018.
But last year, Avis was left distraught when Newman sacked her from that job. Avis’s demotion came soon after she had written to the leader expressing deep concerns over the council’s budgets, particularly in respect of spending on adult social care.
Newman’s callousness was placed on full display in this episode, as the sacking occurred soon after Avis had been widowed.
Avis’s decision to resign now is understood to be related to family reasons. Her and her late husband, Michael’s children are based in Scotland, and she wishes to be closer to them. Having been told that she would not be among those included in the Town Hall Labour group’s cabinet elections, which took place last night, probably helped Avis focus her mind.
The South Norwood by-election which Avis’s departure has caused will create significant problems for the local Labour Party, administratively and politically.
Local party officials had already set a challenging timetable for candidate selections to stand in Woodside and New Addington North wards, to replace Newman and Hall respectively. The deadline for Labour Party members to put themselves forward is noon tomorrow, March 19, with a selection interviews taking place this weekend.
Nominations of candidates to stand in the Woodside and New Addington by-elections have to be with Katherine Kerswell, the council’s interim chief exec and therefore borough returning officer, by April 8 – therefore giving Labour officials plenty of time to iron out any awkward local difficulties as they encountered in 2019 over the controversial choice of candidate in Fairfield.
It is as yet unconfirmed, but the South Norwood selection process could be run over a similar timeframe to the others, but start next week.
It all means that the Town Hall today has 38 Labour councillors to 29 Conservatives.
The balance of the council seems unlikely to alter much as a result of the by-elections, where New Addington North, given the local anger over Brick by Brick developments, might be the most vulnerable of the three Town Hall seats.
The South Norwood by-election, however, will be an unwelcome distraction for Patsy Cummings, Avis’s erstwhile ward colleague and Labour’s low-profile candidate for the London Assembly Croydon and Sutton seat also being contested on May 6.
The threat of closure of the local public library is likely to be a contentious issue on the doorsteps of South Norwood and neighbouring Woodside ward, where the councillors include planning chief Paul Scott and the old-new council leader, Hamida Ali.
The toxic legacy of the Newman era won’t ever be very far away, although even public revulsion at the mess caused might not be enough for any realistic challenge to Labour in South Norwood, where the runners-up in the ward in 2018, the Conservatives, managed to scrape together just 15.8 per cent of the vote, compared to 69.6 per cent for Avis, Cummings and “Thirsty” Clive Fraser.
Read more: Newman and Hall resign as councillors claiming a ‘witchhunt’
Read more: Croydon In Crisis: Council handed biggest bail-out ever
Read more: 28% – Newman leaves his Council Tax legacy to Croydon
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